Brazil’s Change-Maker

I spoke today in the Humphrey Seminar about the internal policies of Brazilian president Lula Da Silva. Lula has remarkably transformed his country as a great change-maker and emerged as a global mediator on key world issues.

The former shoe-shine boy started his political career as a trade unionist and was elected as the president of Steel Workers’ Union in 1975 and 1978. On February 10, 1980, Lula founded in Sao Paulo the left-wing Workers’ Party along with several intellectuals scholars.The Workers’ Party is one of the largest and most important left-wing movements in Latin America. It stands for social democracy, democratic socialism, various Marxist, Trotskyist and Christian socialist ideological factions.Lula served as the party president from 1980 to 1994 while the current president of the Workers’ Party is Jose Eduardo Dutra.
On the domestic front, Lula struggled hard to introduce a new formula for the election of the president via popular vote. Previously, the presidents in Brazil were elected mainly among the retired military officers. Lula helped to change this 29-year old system in 1989. Later on, he contested presidential elections in 1989, 1994 and 1998 but lost all three times. Finally, he got voted as the president of Brazil in the second round of elections on October 27, 2002.

Bolsa Familia

President Lula has managed to reduced poverty in Brazil by 27% and brought down inequality ratio by 20% with the help of his economic initiative called Bolsa Familia, which means family stipend. Launched in 2003, Bolsa Familia is the world’s largest cash transfer program for the poor people. It’s a financial assistance offered to families ( maximum three children) to go to school and get vaccinated. The scheme costs 0.5% of Brazilian GDP. It covers 11.2 million families and 44 million Brazilians.

Former World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, while admiring the Bolsa Familia initiative, commented: “ Bolsa Familia has already become a highly praised model of effective social policy. Countries around the world are drawing lessons from Brazil’s experience and are tyring to produce the same resulsts for their own people.”

Fome Zero

Another policy that has led to a significant change in Brazil under the leadership of President Lula is his 2003 initiative called Fome Zero, which means Zero Starvation. The project, which is intended to eradicate poverty and hunger from Brazil, provides direct financial support or help in small business strategies like opening up restaurants etc. Because of this successful project, child enrollment in Brazil has dramatically declined because poor students are offered free meals at schools. It has also helped Brazil to grapple with the issue of child labor.

Brazil is certainly not one of those countries where politicians are not corrupt. Corruption has always remained a major problem in that country but Fome Zero has luckily been kept away from any kind of corruption. According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the project has been executed transparently as 80% benefits have gone to the families in poverty. By virtue of this initiative, 82.4% Brazilians have acknowledged eating better and 25% families have reported an increase in their income.

President Obama called Lula as the most popular leader on the earth.

In an interview with Al-Jazeera, Lula recalled one of his meetings with former US President George Bush in the White House when he, according to Lula, was obsessed with a war with Iraq.

” I told President Bush that Iraq is not my concern. My concern is the war against hunger of my people. I have 50 million Brazilians living below the poverty line. How can I be concerned with Iraq? The fact is that today, after seven years,  we have lifted 31 million Brazilians out of poverty. Now,they are the middle class. We lifted another 24 million Brazilians from extreme poverty. This is something extremely important for me and it  makes me happy.  I think there is a recognition and we will fulfill all the Millennium Development Goals before the time. I want to spend my energy not being a troublemaker. I want to think positively. I want to build peace.”

An interesting movie was made on the life of President Lula which is called Lula o Filho do Brasil. To watch the trailer of the movie, click here.

Brazil held presidential elections in this month, the result of which has yet to come at the end of this month. It was the first time since 1989 that Lula did not contest the elections because the Brazilian constitution, just like its American counterpart, does not allow a third term to a president. Lula has already served his country twice.

There is surely nothing better for a politician than a graceful exit, a choice Lula has opted for which may take him down in the history as the most popular and highly revered president of his country.

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